Vincent Van Gogh in Bologna. Letter to his brother Theo
I’m writing you in the middle of the night.
The only moment in which the flow of my inner chaos ceases and becomes an order is precisely when the light disappears leaving room for the darkness that merges into a single mantle.
Black as the pitch, obscure as the demons of hell.
I have no easel, no colors or graphite, just senses and curiosity.
We are a few days in Bologna, Italy. This city is the last stop of the journey along with my friend Paul Gauguin, with whom I am sharing many profound experiences. It’s a continuous, incredible, cautious adrenaline. His presence is only giving life to a living mechanism of electrifying discussions about art and life. He listens to me, understands me, speaks to me, sometimes I think he really knows me better than I do myself. Maybe it’s just because I live and suffer at the same time as very strong emotions.
Hypersensitivity, I would not know.
We left together from Provence, the Sun smiled at us all the time, wandered through some northern Italy cities and ended up here, in a mild October, in the city with a thousand porticos. It’s all curves behind the others, lines that rise up and then resonate on the capitals, different from each other, drawing and giving way to other similar mid-air lines, in a secret and intimate order. Even the hills surrounding the city create an incredibly picturesque landscape, so that you immediately want to capture all the shades of green and sky. Everything here preserves the mystery and magnificence of medieval art. A city-sized man with a youth swarming in the streets, breathes a particular, jovial, saturated lifestyle. To see her, to live it, I almost forget all the mischievous things I have.
Today, in the late afternoon, we took advantage of the golden golden darts of the sun and made a long walk to the old town. The sun was becoming more and more absent. We were returning home when our gaze stood on an old church now devoted to San Mattia, a splendid sixteenth-century building.
We went in. And there, a surprise that filled me with the soul of joy. My art and its echo.
Someone had set up something on my life through my works, in a kind of motion picture story. A dive back in everything I’ve been and created.
Paul and I went in and lounged on some pillows in the apse, where it was supposed to be the in place of the altar. And here’s my abandonment to imagination, fantasy, completely abducted and disconnected from reality. I looked at those scenes as if the pictures that danced appearing and disappearing around me had been made by another hand and another soul.
They seduced me and forced me to follow them. I relived completely. I was together with the poor and the peasants of the Northern Campaigns, I lived in their shoes and covered them with their rags, souls of Paradise saints in the wrong place. Our people, who have always been my muse. I lived with the fools, my brothers and frail children of humanity, sublime souls towards whom I felt a great deal of solidarity.
You know, after all, madness is a disease similar to other sisters, also other people’s life companions like you and I.
In that place was all my art and its essence. Everything was talking about me. Art is my way of feeling the infinite, and finally I was inside. I was traveling on those canvases, in those projections, in the cafés of Arles and in the streets of Antwerp, amidst the green landscapes of Belgium and Holland and in the ocean of the lights of Paris. I was flying along with the ravens on wheat fields, then dipping into the sunflowers and the blue of the starry skies, in an impetus of religious respect for what surrounds man. I existed again.
That was the fruit of work to achieve bliss and happiness, and with them I felt the thrill of living a second life. Powerful, impetuous, overwhelming. True happiness, unknown and never fully embraced.
I know what you think when reading these last lines, but that gesture was out of my control.
The shotgun in that field of sunflowers was my only big mistake. You have to believe me. Please forgive my being a weak man at that moment.
Despite my illness I am forever captured, I love life more than anything else happened to me.
I consider it the greatest gift God has given to a humble soul as a painter. The experience I’ve just told you is my eternal witness.
I hope to see you soon, my greatest friend.
Your affectionate brother
Italian version: https://bolognabloguniversity.it/vincent-van-gogh-bologna-la-lettera-al-fratello-theo/
Translation by Mark Mitchell
Ph_ Juan Pérez